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The King Country; or, Explorations in New Zealand. A Narrative of 600 Miles of Travel through Maoriland.

Chapter XIV. — Tokanu

page 161

Chapter XIV.

Scenery—The springs—The natives—Old war-tracks—Te Heuheu—A Maori lament—Motutaiko—Horomatangi.

Our journey of about thirty miles around the eastern shore of Lake Taupo brought us to the native settlement of Tokanu, which is situated at the extreme south-western end of the lake, and on the shores of a picturesque bay, formed on the one side by the delta of the Upper Waikato, and on the other side by a line of precipitous cliffs which rose like a solid wall of rock from the edge of the water, their tops rolling inland in the form of conical-shaped hills. To the south of the bay, and behind the native settlement, rise the Kakaramea Ranges, in a cluster of volcanic cones, in some parts clothed with a dense vegetation, while in other places the mountain sides are entirely bare, especially in the vicinity of the hot springs and fumaroles, which may be seen sending up their clouds of steam from various parts of the slopes. As we looked across the bay of Tokanu the scenery was resplendent in all the rich, wild beauty of this part of the country. The bay presented a wide expanse of water, broken only by the small island of Motutaiko, page 162which seemed to rise with fairy-like beauty from the depths below. Beyond, to the east, was the bold promontory of Motuoapa and the winding sinuations of the eastern shore. To the west, on the margin of the lake, rose a green terrace-like formation, marked by the conical mountain Pukekaikiore, beyond which, again, the bold form of Karangahape rose to a height of over a thousand feet above the calm, blue water, which shone beneath the sun, without a breath of wind to disturb its surface; while right abreast of the settlement a small river, known as the Waihi, fell over a precipitous wall of rock in the form of a foaming cascade. Here, upon the sides of the fern-clad slopes and upon the level flats, amidst boiling fountains, hot springs, and fumaroles, the primitive-looking whares of the natives were scattered about in the most picturesque confusion, but all looking out upon the lake and its beautiful surroundings, which render this curious region of thermal action one of the most charming spots in the world.

The Tokanu River runs through the settlement, and it is in the vicinity of this stream that the principal springs are situated. All the springs, solfataras, and fumaroles hereabout partake of the same character as those of the other centres of thermal action around the lake, and are used by the natives in the same way for the curative properties they possess, as well as for cooking, bathing, and other puposes. The largest and most remarkable hot spring is Te Pirori, which, from a deep, round hole, throws up a column of boiling water to a height of ten to fifteen feet, amidst dense volumes of steam. For a space of nearly three square page 163miles one may walk over quaking soil, where bubbling springs of hot water flowing into basins of white, silicious rock, and jets of hissing steam bursting from the ground, meet one at every turn.

The whole region of the Kakaramea Range to the rear of the settlement was, without doubt, at one time the scene of a vast volcanic action, and it is from the still active agencies observable in certain parts of these mountains that the existence of the present springs may be traced. Indeed, Tokanu may be said to be situated at the very foot of some of the principal extinct volcanic cones of this part of the island, and although their craters are now inactive, their steaming sides still indicate that an extensive thermal activity is yet going on within them.

There is a considerable Maori population at Tokanu and in its neighbourhood, and many of the natives are remarkable for their stalwart build, a condition which no doubt arises, in no small degree, from the healthfulness of the climate, as well as from the fact that they secure the choice of a greater variety of food than that obtained by many of the less favoured tribes of the interior. The principal staple of diet, here as elsewhere, is pork and potatoes, but besides this the lake yields several varieties of fish, which are held in high esteem. The golden carp, introduced some years ago, is very plentiful, and besides it there are three distinct species common to the lake—the kokopu, the koaro, and the inanga, while the koura, or crayfish, likewise abounds.

From the earliest period of Maori history Tokanu has been an important place of native settlement, page 164and it is still one of the principal strongholds of the Ngatituwharetoa. It is likewise, at the present time, one of the most jealously-guarded entrances to the King Country. Situated, as it is, in the very centre of the island, it formed in former years the point at which the chief war-tracks converged. During the early days, when tribal wars were frequent, there were three main tracks (existing to this day) which were principally used for conveying intelligence throughout the island. One came from Whanganui, in the south, across the Rangipo table-land to Tokanu, while two others diverged from the latter place, one striking west, through that portion of the island now known as the King Country, and thence to the north. The other passed along the eastern shores of Lake Taupo, and thence to Maketu. The natives told us that in war-time men belonging to the various tribes through whose territory the tracks passed, were stationed at different points, and they, by moving rapidly from place to place when in receipt of information, conveyed it thus from one end of the island to the other in an incredibly short space of time.

Besides its many other historic associations, Te Rapa, an old pa near Tokanu, was the scene of the terrible catastrophe by which Te Heuheu, the great warrior chief of the Ngatituwharetoa, met his death, with sixty o£ his followers, by a land-slip, which overwhelmed his pa during the night, in the month of May, 1846. The site of this terrific fall of earth may still be traced, while the name and fame of Te Heuheu still resounds from Tokanu even unto the lofty peaks of Tongariro, where the Maori hero, armed even in death page 165with his spear and mere, awaits the sound of the last trumpet. It was in memory of Te Heuheu's untimely end that his brother, Iwikau, composed the following lament, which for poetic diction and pathos has no equal in the Maori language:1

See o'er the heights of dark Tauhara's mount
The infant morning wakes. Perhaps my friend
Returns to me, clothed in that lightsome cloud!—
Alas! I toil alone in this lone world.
                                    Yes, thou art gone!
Go, thou mighty! go, thou dignified!
Go, thou who wert a spreading tree to shade
Thy people when evil hover'd round!
And what strange god has caused so dread a death
To thee and thy companions?

Sleep on, O Sire, in that dark, damp abode!
And hold within thy grasp that weapon rare,
Bequeath'd to thee by thy renown'd ancestor,
Ngahuia, when he left the world.

Turn yet this once thy bold, athletic frame!
And let me see thy skin carved o'er with lines
Of blue; and let me see thy face so
Beautifully chisell'd into varied forms;—
Ah! the people now are comfortless and sad!

The stars are faintly shining in the heavens!
For "Atutahi" and "Rehua-Kai-tangata"
Beside the milky way. Emblems these
Of thee, O friend beloved,

The Mount of Tongariro rises lonely
In the South; while the rich feathers that
Adorn'd the great canoe "Arawa,"
Float upon the wave, and women from tho
West look on and weep!
page 166 Why hast thou left behind the valued treasures
Of thy famed ancestor Rongomaihuia,
And wrapp'd thyself in night?

Cease thy slumbers, O thou son of Rangi!
Wake up, and take thy battle-axe, and tell
Thy people, of the coming signs; and what
Will now befall them. How the foe, tumultuous
As the waves, will rush with spear uplifted;
And how thy people will avenge their wrongs,
Nor shrink at danger. But let the warriors
Breathe awhile, nor madly covet death!

Lo, thou art fallen, and the earth receives
Thee as its prey! But thy wondrous fame
Shall soar on high, resounding o'er the heavens!2

The small, picturesque island of Motutaiko, which forms one of the most conspicuous and attractive features when looking from Tokanu over the lake, is formed by an oblong mass of rock, with precipitous sides, which arise abruptly from the water. It is mostly covered with a dense vegetation, which casts its fantastic shadows upon the shining surface below, and altogether it is a very pretty and a very romanticlooking place. It is accessible only on one side, and the water surrounding it is said by the natives to be of enormous depth.

As with most remarkable places situated in solitary positions, the superstitious mind of the Maori has made this curious island the abode of an evil spirit or taniwha, one Horomatangi, who appears to act the part of a kind of Neptune of the lake. He is said by the natives to live in a submerged cave on the western side of the island, where the rocks are page 167steepest. Ever on the alert, in fine or foul weather, whenever a passing canoe goes by, he stirs up the elements, and, causing the water to surge and roll, upsets the frail bark, and carries off its living freight to his abode beneath the lake. On this account natives, when navigating the lake, steer clear of this island.

1 Te Heuheu was the most powerful chief of his time, and exercised a widespread influence over the Maori race, who regarded him in the light of a deified being. He is said to have been a man of herculean proportions, standing seven feet high.

2 This lament will be found in Sir George Grey's invaluable collection of Maori songs and legends.